Generation Z leads charge as employee priorities shift

By 2025, millennials will comprise an estimated three-quarters of the global workforce.

By 2025, millennials will comprise an estimated three-quarters of the global workforce.

At one time a hefty salary, a big company car and a nice house signalled career success to the world. For some they still do, but for younger workers who are likely to change job numerous times throughout their working lives and who may never own a car never mind a house, the definition of career success has shifted.

Millennials in particular have a different take on what constitutes workplace success. For them, it’s all about having a good work-life balance but the “work” part of the equation should include a rewarding job and good opportunities for career progression with flexible working thrown in.

Their desire to “have it all” is beginning to drive changes in the workplace (such as curfews on in-house emails and texts) and is affecting both those coming behind who are growing up feeling entitled to a similar blend of working and living and those ahead who may now feel disenchanted because they have given too much to their work to the detriment of other aspects of their lives.

The oldest millennials are still under 40 (the upper age most often quoted is 37) and by 2025 they will comprise an estimated three-quarters of the global workforce.

About 20 per cent of them are now in management roles so this is a demographic shift that over time may fundamentally change the key characteristics of how we work.

Add into this mix the fact that older people may have to work longer to retire with a sufficient pension and the seismic changes in technology coming down the tracks, and managing intergenerational visions of what constitutes career success is going to be a real challenge for managers of the future.

Recent research carried out online by YouGov (a global public opinion and data company) for LinkedIn reinforces the notion that traditional perceptions of success are outdated. Only 15 per cent of all respondents identified a six-figure salary as a definition of success: this rose to 32 per cent among those in the 18-24-year-old age group, the so-called Generation Z who are just beginning to enter the workforce.

Pay rises

The survey sample size for Ireland was just over 500 people of mixed ages and only 6 per cent saw earning more money than their friends as a measure of success while only 16 per cent viewed a pay rise as a positive milestone in terms of being successful.

Work/life balance, relationships and personal experiences were seen as more important when defining success than a salary. Being able to spend time on hobbies and other things that interested them also contributed significantly to people’s perceptions of success, as did the opportunity to travel, which was important to more than 40 per cent of the sample.

“The research findings are interesting because many people would assume that we often associate our success in life with our finances. In fact, as people get older they put a much heavier emphasis on their relationships and their passions in life,” says Sharon McCooey, head of LinkedIn Ireland.

“Being healthy was also one of the top characteristics that respondents defined success by, with 74 per cent of those surveyed singling it out. Among the over-55s who took part in the survey, this rose to 84 per cent.

“Despite emerging from a recession in relatively recent times, our positivity shines through with the Irish public standing out as one of the most confident nations in the research, which was conducted in 16 countries,” McCooey adds. “This positive attitude can clearly be put down to knowing what’s important in life and not trying to keep up with the Joneses.”


Psychologist Sinéad Brady, founder of A Career to Love (which specialises in organisational development and individual career change), says younger employees want work to intrude less into their personal lives.

“The lines between work and home life have become very blurred, not least because technology has made it so easy to be ‘always on’ and always contactable,” she says. “What I’m seeing is that people want a better blend between work and their personal lives. Their work is still important to them but so are family, relationships, friends, exercise, hobbies, eating well, getting enough sleep and so on.

“What has changed is the lean-in mentality, where people were expected to do more and more. They now want defined boundaries and space to do other things and money alone isn’t enough to change this.

“In particular, people want to have the time to invest in the relationships in their lives and in my experience a lot of companies are struggling to cope with these shifts in attitude. They’re still caught in the nine-to-five mentality and the emphasis is still on being present rather than on output and productivity.

“In short, attitudes are changing but the workplace ecosystem is not changing with them. People are redefining what success looks like for them and organisations need to acknowledge this and have a more human conversation around what’s going on.”  

While previous generations were brought up to see career success as a legitimate goal in its own right, this doesn’t cut it with millennials.

It’s still too early to say which way Generation Z are going to swing. However, early canvassing of their opinions about what they want from work seems to indicate a desire for a high level of autonomy, mentorship but also close working relationships with their bosses and plenty of opportunities for career development.

They are also going to be slippery creatures to hold on to as it seems they are prepared to keep moving jobs until, like Goldilocks, they find the one that’s “just right”.

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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